Classic Compilation: The Rolling Stones – Forty Licks

There are some bands that the term ‘legendary’ just doesn’t suffice. The Rolling Stones are unarguably one of those bands that changed the course of rock and roll, and they are easily one of the most influential bands of all time. The thing is, just because they are one of the most important bands in the history of popular song, it doesn’t mean you have to love everything they’ve ever done. It’s obvious to anyone with even a passing interest in popular song that The Rolling Stones have recorded some of the greatest rock songs in the history of great rock songs, but for me personally they are just one of those bands I admire rather than adore. I love their singles, but have always struggled to appreciate even their most popular albums. They are a band capable of unparalleled brilliance, but I just struggle connect to anything of theirs beyond their best known numbers. I just want to hear the hits, and the best of the rest, and that’s why I love Forty Licks.

But what hits! – It’s no accident that The Rolling Stones were given the moniker of The Greatest Rock and Roll Band of all time. With a 60s output that boasts such all time classics as “Gimme Shelter”, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, and “Ruby Tuesday”, there’s enough evidence here as to why the Rolling Stones were considered second only to The Beatles as the decade’s greatest band. The 70s brought the likes of “Brown Sugar”, “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Tumbling Dice”, strong singles which demonstrated that, although the band’s hit rate had lessened, they were still capable of stunning tunes. With each decade the hit rate dropped a little further, with great numbers on albums released with decreasing frequency.

Released in 2002, Forty Licks was a well promoted double CD greatest hits set. Disc one covers their career up to 1970, while disc two covers 1971 to 2002. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that it equates to the band’s first six years on one disc, and a further thirty one on the other. Now take a guess as to which is the best! I can pretty much guarantee that for every time you play the second disc of Forty Licks, you will have heard the first at least five times. Disc one is where the greatest concentration of good stuff is found, as it is the music on which The Rolling Stones’ immense reputation is built. Twenty tracks and not one dud. That’s some hit rate by anyone’s standards.

Disc two is obviously much less even and were it not for the material from Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St., along with a select few big hits from later in their career, it’s doubtful you would be playing it all that often. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its moments of greatness, such as “Angie”, “Miss You” and “Start Me Up”, but beyond that, and the material from the aforementioned Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St. it’s little more than a mopping up exercise with only brief flashes of what made The Rolling Stones such a brilliant band. That said, at the time of its release, Forty Licks was the only readily available compilation that covered the entirety of their career up to that point, so it’s perhaps not surprising you have to take the rough with the smooth. For some of us, this truly is all The Rolling Stones we’ll ever need, and it remans a gas, gas, gas.

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